11 December 2005
The last word in OETA: Authority
Commercial radio and television have a huge (and problematic) split between customers (advertisers) and consumers (viewers and listeners). Yet, for some dumb reason (too many staffers coming over from the growing labor pool of laid-off commercial broadcast marketers?), public broadcasting has looked to commercial broadcasting as an ideal model. Rather than make it easier than ever for its consumers to become customers, and for its customers to become more involved with the stations, public broadcasting whored itself to underwriters and other "sponsors."
Maybe that's an unkind characterization, but there's a follow-the-money effect at work here. As dependence on federal money shrinks, commercial sponsors take up the slack. There is a natural drift of energy toward pleasing those advertisers (which is what they are), and away from customers that really matter: paying listeners and viewers. In other words, public broadcasting has been doing its best to behave like commercial broadcasting. Not helpful.
Regarding our own (so to speak) PBS facilities, Matt Deatherage notes:
OETA is rich because it turns the purpose of public broadcasting as upside-down as it can and still call itself "public broadcasting." OETA is rich because it made sure it wouldn't run programs giving progressive Oklahomans a voice if what they said might annoy people with deep pockets.
Of course, the most grievous problem with OETA is that it's an entity of the state, subject to legislative oversight, and legislators in this state are rather easily spooked (cf. "Scratching off Christmas"). I frankly don't see how we can expect any changes in OETA's practices unless it can be slid out from under the twitchy eye of government and into the control of a private foundation, the way most PBS affiliates nationwide are operated; the new service will still have to go hat in hand to donors, but at least it won't have to answer to 23rd and Lincoln.
Possible compromise: Let OETA continue to run the statewide network of LPTV translators and the two full-power outlets in Cheyenne and Eufaula, and spin off the Oklahoma City and Tulsa stations to local operators. The hard part, needless to say, is convincing the legislature that this would be a Good Thing.